The cauldron is boiling

The cauldron is boiling

Something odd is taking place on the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) flank. Opponents of party leader Devlet Bahçeli were in efforts to topple him at an extraordinary convention. The nationalist party’s bylaws, however, do not allow elections at extraordinary party conventions. Thus, the first target was to get an extraordinary convention decision, push through a bylaws amendment to make such an election possible and convene a second extraordinary convention within days.

Saying it, of course, was far easier than doing it. The MHP leadership had no intention of budging to pressure, thus signatures of party delegates were collected and the issue was relayed to court. A verdict was obtained for the appointment of a three-person executive team to guide the party to an extraordinary convention. That team set May 15 as the date of the “first” convention to change party bylaws. In the meantime, MHP leader Bahçeli and his team were stressing that no extraordinary convention would be allowed, that a hijacking of the MHP by the “parallel gang” would not be allowed.

Why were Bahçeli and his friends so confident despite almost half of the delegates of the party signing the petition demanding an extraordinary convention and a court empowering a team of trustees to organize an extraordinary convention? The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was against a change in the nationalist party that might transform it or at least lead to a perception in the public that there is now an alternative to the AKP rule, a hope…

Few days ago, at a dinner hosted by the Ankara Forum Association, I was with Servet Avcı, a senior journalist and a confidant of Meral Akşener. Obviously the issue was the MHP and how it became a hope not only for the nationalists but a very large segment of the nation that included the center-right as well as the center-left. Naturally what the nation prefers on any issue can become tangible only after that issue is put to a vote. Avcı was careful in his selection of words. First of all, he said, since the extraordinary convention issue has been referred to the Court of Appeals, the decision of the high court on the issue must come before any further move. How right he was became clearer within days when two separate courts decided to withhold the extraordinary convention until after the Court of Appeals made its verdict on the issue. Would such verdicts help anything? Could they stop the implementation of the first ruling? These are issues to be debated by men of law. It is apparent that there is panic in the Bahçeli flank, or at least awareness that they face a serious challenge. Secondly, was it a surprise for anyone to see two separate courts adopting verdicts to withhold the verdict of another court?

The AKP is, of course, panicking. For the first time in many years, there is a serious challenge. The MHP, which has served as a useful political crutch in every critical moment the AKP administration has encountered, might have a leadership change and become a second address for conservative voters. Besides, there has been speculation for some time that former president Abdullah Gül and many heavy guns of the AKP such as Bülent Arınç, Hüseyin Çelik and Sadullah Ergin might form a new party. Also, it was no secret that discord between the president and his handpicked prime minister was widening in the AKP. Was the AKP’s executive council abrogating the powers of the prime minister in the party’s local organization just an ordinary development?

Avci, also a columnist for the nationalist Yeniçağ newspaper, categorically rejected the prospect of Gül and his supporters joining a “rejuvenated MHP” after the “toppling” of Bahçeli. He said neither Gül nor his friends were welcome if Akşener becomes the new leader while “untainted names of center and center-right politics, new comers were all welcome.”

Yet, Avcı was very careful in stressing the risks ahead and he was proven correct so far. If a change in the MHP will have an effect not only on the AKP but on the great expectations and plans of the absolute ruler of the country, such a development cannot come problem-free. However, the battle in the MHP has already started changing something in Turkish politics. For the first time and even more surprisingly in the MHP, a party which has been a hardliner on traditions, conservative values and party discipline, a failed party leader is under pressure to leave or will be punished and kicked out.

“We are the first in Turkish politics in challenging a failed leader to pack up and go or face the consequences… If we succeed, and I have no doubt apart from my concern that it might take longer than we expected, this attitude will have an impact on all parties tomorrow,” said Avcı. Is he wrong? Hopefully not.